This One-on-One interview is with Dr. Melissa Rich, our newest veterinarian who joined HousePaws in January 2020. Dr. Melissa Rich is a Maryland native, who attended Gettysburg College for her undergraduate studies in Biology. She pursued her veterinary education at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. Here she met her husband, who is also a veterinarian and a native of South Jersey. After graduating, she practiced in West Virginia, providing low-income populations with mobile and in-hospital services for small and farm animals alike.
Dr. Melissa found her dream farm and happily moved back to her husband’s hometown in South Jersey, where they have a 250-year old farmhouse and a 10-acre farm they are slowly updating and filling with animals. Dr. Melissa loves to cook different cuisines, and enjoys kayaking, hiking and horseback riding with her husband on the weekends. Dr. Melissa’s professional interests include client education, geriatric medicine, and dentistry. She also loves pigs, llamas, goats, and other backyard farm pets and is thrilled to continue seeing these as part of the HousePaws team!
Q: You worked in a mobile vet setting in West Virginia. Tell us about that. What are some similarities and differences between that job and HousePaws?
A: The practice that I worked at in West Virginia was primarily a walk-in clinic for small animals. I was thrilled that they let me do mobile appointments for farm animals (horses, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens primarily), and I was able to do mobile appointments for some wellness and for at-home euthanasias. All mobile appointments were done out of my SUV, so that was a difference! The biggest difference of course, is that the area I worked in was very low-income and poverty stricken (as most of West Virginia is) so I learned to do a lot with a little, and to be creative. HousePaws has a much bigger support system and as the focus is on mobile appointments, I get to do way more of them!
Q: You love working with farm animals. Did you grow up with them?
A: While I have been exposed to horses my whole life (there is a baby picture of me somewhere in a sling on my mom’s back while she rides), I actually spent much of my younger years in the suburbs of Denver. We moved to Maryland in my early teens, where I got my first horse, and then started with raising chickens and geese in high school. I learned about cows, sheep and pigs under the tutelage of John and Ginger Myers of Evermore Farm, a CSA in MD. They were wonderful teachers who took an over eager college student and happily taught her as much as they knew about the farm animals under their care. My veterinary mentor, Dr. Eric Wiles, did mostly horses, but would see other farm animals too, and I continued my tutelage under him. I just sort of fell in love with small producers, hobby farms and their farmers, and continued to try to get as much hands-on as possible throughout college and veterinary school. Nothing makes me happier than a day filled with pigs, sheep, or goats!
Q: What are some challenges and rewards of working with farm animals?
A: Depending on their purpose and background, farm animals can be really hard to work with! All of them are prey species, versus our primarily predator companion animals (dogs and cats), and so they react much differently to new people and new situations. Sometimes the first time I see them is the first time they have had unpleasant stimulus (such as a vaccine), and they always remember me for that. However, in general, I love working with them and the people who own them, because I am often teaching about routine maintenance and systems for production that owners can do at home to keep them healthy, and making small changes that make a huge difference.
Q: What kind of pets and animals do you yourself have?
A: I often joke that I wish people asked me for the number of species rather than number of animals! My husband and I have two horses, three little dogs (chihuahuas), three cats, one corn snake, one African Sulcata Tortoise, one mini Lamancha goat, and 25 American Bresse chicks coming in the mail in the next few days!
Q: You have a special interest in geriatric medicine. What draws you to helping older pets?
A: They have given their whole lives to loving us. Nothing makes me happier than making our elderly cats and dogs more comfortable, and making the last few years of their lives as good as they can be.
Q: Did you always want to become a veterinarian?
A: I am actually in the minority of our profession, since I didn’t know I wanted to be a vet for my whole life. I actually used to pass out at the sight of blood! I always loved animals, science, and biology, and while I pursued these things throughout my early education, it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that there was nothing else I could do that would make me happy. The first time I rode along with a veterinarian, I thought it was going to let me strike it off the list of career possibilities! Instead, I fell in love with our dynamic, diverse profession, and the rest is history in the making.
Q: What is life like being married to another veterinarian? Do you trade stories?
A: The downside is that we have a gazillion animals because we both want to save everything, but thankfully we have a 10 acre farm and room for the many more that I’m sure will be a part of our future! My husband is my life partner and my best friend. It is wonderful to have someone at the end of the day to swap stories with, bring up new tidbits we’ve learned, and who truly understands the day to day realities of our profession.